Sandoval names panel to spur development of drone aircraft industry in Nevada

Gov. Brian Sandoval was clearly impressed with what he saw of Southern Nevada’s potential as a key location for the development of drone aircraft systems when he visited Rancho High School and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University less than two weeks ago.

Sandoval has already appointed a 15-member panel that will lead the state’s efforts to obtain a Federal Aviation Administration Center of Excellence designation for unmanned aerial systems.

Having the designation would put Nevada in line to be the home of research and development, testing and training facilities that would generate jobs and attract aeronautical companies to Las Vegas.

Nevada Adjutant General William Burks and Steve Hill, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, will lead the Nevada Autonomous Systems Panel, which will be charged with convincing the FAA that the state should be one of six designated sites for the development and testing of unmanned aerial systems — or UASs, as they're known in aeronautic circles.

Sandoval said Southern Nevada could become the Silicon Valley of the UAS industry if selected as a test site. The FAA opened a 60-day comment period on the development of test sites on March 9.

Burks and Hill will co-chair the panel, which also will include Southern Nevadans Joe Brown, commander of the Nellis Air Force Base Support Team; Dr. Raymond Juzaitis, president of National Security Technologies; Neal Smatresk, president of UNLV; Randall Walker, director of the Clark County Aviation Department; Kenneth Witcher, program chairman of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Nevada; and Tim Wong, president and CEO of Las Vegas-based Arcata Associates.

Others on the panel are Krys Bart, president and CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority; Greg Cox, vice president of Reno-based Sierra Nevada Corp.; Leo Drozdoff, director of the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources; Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties; Marc Johnson, president of the University of Nevada in Reno; Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation; and Dr. Stephen Wells, president of Desert Research Institute.